This month’s Small Family Homes Blogger assignment — how you decide what items make it into your small space — dropped into my inbox on the same day I impulsively purchased a giant rocking motorcycle for Frankie from the thrift store. I was staring at it in my living room — it took up my whole living room — wondering how to get rid of this thing that I had spent $15 on and 15 minutes trying to wedge into my car just an hour ago. I was making my monthly drop off at the Salvation Army — just running in with a Huggies box full of some things we had outgrown or no longer needed, Frankie still in her carseat in the car — when I saw it, the giant rocking motorcycle, in the window on my way out. Yes, I had already left the store. And, because Frankie was sitting in the car, I didn’t feel I had time to pause and really ask myself if we needed it, if I even wanted it, in our space. Pressed for time like I was, I should have left it alone. But, I ran back in. Bought it. Ran back out, wedged it into the car and took Frankie to Bumble and Hive, where there is a rocking motorcycle that she enjoys riding. Where, I should add, we go a couple of times a month, giving her ample opportunity to enjoy riding a giant rocking motorcycle.
Once we got home and I lugged this thing inside, I realized that this purchase was a mistake. First of all, it was huge; it was way too big for Frankie. Maybe a five-year-old would’ve been able to ride it? Second, it was really not the sort of toy that would get enough use and enjoyment to justify the space it occupied. I’m not anti large toys (we love our play tent and activity table), but large toys have to be hardworking toys in our small space. I just knew this motorcycle was not going to pull its weight. I listed it on Varage Sale and sold it the next day for a small profit — to a man with four boys. So no harm done, at least not with this particular purchase, but you can see why this assignment felt timely and apt. How on earth had I gone into the Salvation Army with a box of cast-offs and come out with a 40 lb wooden motorcycle? How do I decide what is worth buying/owning?
I decided to keep track of all our (non-consumable) family purchases for the month of February. Or really just anything we let cross the threshold of our front door (gifts and side-of-the-road finds included) in an attempt to make some sense of the question.
Here’s what became new to us last month:
- Two new pairs of running shoes (Pierre and I)
- Silicone sink caddy
- Two braided extension cords
- 8 x 10 picture frame for my 2018 calendar
- Wooden stacking toy
- 10 magnetic cabinet locks
- Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes LP
- Magnetic knife rack
- Bunnykins plate and bowl
In exchange, I have another Huggies box to go to the Salvation Army. Some of the things that became new to us were direct swap-outs (e.g., our space-hogging knife block for the magnetic knife strip, the braided extension cords for some unsightly ones, mug for mug) and others were not.
Of these items, only the sink caddy and LP were impulse buys. The wooden stacking toy and mug were free, random, side-of-the-road finds (so also impulsive, I guess). And the Bunnykins china came in a package from my Mom. We don’t have special dishes for Frankie — she eats off our good china, same as us — but I knew my Mom had saved a few dishes of mine and I thought a few deeper bowls would make certain meals easier for Frankie to eat so I asked that she send what she had saved.
Everything else was purchased after spending some time on my “To Buy” list. This is a list of needs/wants that I keep on my phone — I add to it whenever something gets worn out, outgrown and, quite often, when I think I can add function or beauty with a new/different item (like replacing the extension cord that I use to work from the dining room table). Keeping this list reduces my urge to jump online and purchase something right away, “before I forget.” Just by writing it down, I feel like I’ve created a record of my desire for the object and, as nothing is ever an emergency purchase, I can come back to it in a few days or a week and order the item then. That is, if I still need/want it. I end up deleting about half of the things I write down. That is a lot of stuff that never gets bought! In a world where we can want something, find it online, pay for it and have it dropped on our doorstep the next day, I think it’s an important habit to “sleep on it”.
A recent example: an easel for Frankie spent some time on the list recently. IKEA sells a very nice wooden one for something like $25. I often put out white paper for Frankie and different art materials at her snack table — but she seems to be drawn to drawing vertically (walls, cabinet fronts, etc.) so I thought, easel! But, as the item spent a few weeks on my list, I questioned where I would store it when not in use and if it would necessitate getting rid of the chalkboard table (converted exersaucer) that we already have. In the end, I decided a big piece of kraft paper or clean newsprint taped to our kitchen door (we store the art supplies in the kitchen) would provide the same function as the easel without the expense/hassle of purchasing, storing and later selling a new toy.
Minimalism for us doesn’t look like bare shelves, empty cupboards, never buying anything or making do with what we have if what we have isn’t exactly what we want. But it does mean thinking purchases through (most of the time!) and, if a new item is replacing an old one, donating or selling the old item right away. If a no-longer-wated item is saleable, I put it up on Varage and Used Victoria and, at the same time, move it to our donation box. I make it a habit to drop donations off at the beginning of every month and if the item hasn’t sold by the time donation day rolls around, I get it out of the house just the same. If something isn’t needed/wanted by us anymore I’m not going to let it take up space (both in my basement and in my head) for six months while I try and get $20 for it. Of course this attitude is all the more reason to think through purchases carefully.
Minimalism also means waiting to find/buy the perfect item and not purchasing stop-gap items (to be replaced later once we do find the perfect item). Some good examples can be found on my current “To Buy” list:
- Lamp shade
- Pillow protector
- Nightlight for Frankie’s room
- Computer mouse
- Desk (for when the den/office is done)
- Desk chair
The first three items have all been on my list for a while — but IKEA discontinued the lamp shade I wanted, The Bay had lousy pillow protectors and all the nightlights at Canadian Tire were ugly. So I haven’t bought these things yet — maybe I never will — but assuming these things remain on the list, we’ll definitely survive another month without them while I look for the right ones.
How do you decide what to allow into your home? What strategies do you use to make sure you’re not buying things with reckless abandon? (Also: I’d challenge you to keep track of what things become new to you in a month or even a week! It’s probably more than you think.)